by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Friends, I have such a love-hate relationship with this post every year. I love looking back on my year of reading, feeling that fondness when I see the title of a book I loved . . . but I hate having to choose which books to share! Ashley said this in her "Best of 2022" post (which you can read here): I have been shifting around the books on this list and could just as easily have highlighted five different reads. These books, though, are the ones I'm committing to in this moment.
One of my strategies was to pick books that represented a type of reading I'm glad I did this year, so it's possible I may sneak in a few extra titles. I looked back, and I had 103 five-star reads in 2022 (so far!), so I'll still try to demonstrate some restraint.
If you're looking for more "best books" content from us, you can check out our Unabridged Book Awards episode here or read over our picks from last year—here are mine, and here are Ashley's. We also included a bonus picks on our Patreon episode this month. Find out more about supporting us on Patreon here.
All right, on to the books!
Tiffany D. Jackson's The Weight of Blood (Bookshop.org | Libro.fmLibro.fm)
The Weight of Blood represents some of my favorite bookish things: it's a compelling YA novel that deals with important, resonant social issues; it's a retelling of another book I love (Stephen King's Carrie); and it's a podcast pick that I got to dive into with Ashley (on our episode) and a group of buddy readers on IG.
The tale of Maddy Washington begins with the podcast Maddy Did It, which sets out to investigate the tragedy that happened in Maddy's home town and that resulted in the deaths of most of her classmates at their segregated proms. But as Jackson peels back layer after layer, circling through a variety of points of view, she also uncovers empathy for Maddy that the podcast hosts (and perhaps the reader) could not have anticipated.
The story grew from a news story about a Southern school that held segregated proms well into the last decade. Jackson took that kernel and created a character in Maddy whose father has forced her to pass as white and whose revelation as a Black girl puts her at the center of a town bent on continuing things as they've always been.
Other notable retellings: Jacqueline Firkins's Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things (a retelling of Austen's Mansfield Park) and Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperhead (a retelling of David Copperfield)
Gabrielle Zevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Bookshop.org | Libro.fmLibro.fm)
Some books live up to their hype. Gabrielle Zevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is one of them. The novel zooms in on a specific subject—video game creation—as a way to illuminate the universal. Zevin's portrait of friendship delves into the ways that we can betray those we love most, in the healing power of forgiveness, in the struggle and ecstasy of artistic creation, in the way that one kind of love can blend into another.
The novel covers decades of the friendship between Sam Masur and Sadie Green, and I felt the weight of that time deeply, the accumulated slights that can build to loathing and also the shared history that neither can forget. It's an epic story that earns its Shakespeare-inspired title, and it's also a very particular tale of friendship and love.
Other books that lived up to the hype: Bonnie Garmis's Lessons in Chemistry, Stephen King's Fairy Tale, Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle, Emma Straub's This Time Tomorrow
Jane Austen's Persuasion (Bookshop.org | Libro.fmLibro.fm)
I have shared (perhaps too often?) the challenge I set for myself this year to read Austen's six full-length novels; I ended up expanding that challenge to include some amazing buddy reads on Instagram and explored these books with a fabulous group. (I'm creating another Austen-centered challenge for 2023! You can find out more here.)
Anyway, I loved all over again the books I expected, which I'd read and re-read before (Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility), and I fell in love with Emma, which I'd watched in various film versions but never read. But Persuasion? I love it just so much. I'm not sure that Austen has ever created a more compelling character than Anne Elliot, who has passed by a decade the age of most Austen heroines and gained with that age a maturity and an appreciation for love that is just unprecedented. The way that Austen makes the reader feel every moment of Anne's fixation on the actions of the man she loves, the way she comes to suspect and then accept the conclusion that he loves her back, is truly, truly brilliant.
The joy I find in reading with a group cannot be overstated, and I so appreciate the discussions that we had over the course of the year.
Other favorite books from buddy reads: Jen Ferguson's The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (which made Ashley's list!), Michael Christie's Greenwood, Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy, Caroline Van Hemert's The Sun Is a Compass
Clint Smith's Counting Descent (Bookshop.org | Libro.fmLibro.fm)
I like poetry fine, but I never would have expected for a poetry collection to make it on this list. But here we are.
I first encountered Smith with his brilliant book How the Word Is Passed, which made it on my list last year. I then had the chance to see him at the National Book Festival and became even more of a fan: listening to him talk about his intentions in writing, hearing his great empathy for people he interviewed, elevated my feelings about the book even more.
So, I decided to pick up his poetry (inspired as well by the brilliant Teach Living Poets). Oh my goodness. I don't know that I can convey fully the power of this collection. My emotions ran the gamut, from joy and hope to despair and mourning. One short poem made me gasp and then brought me to tears a few lines later.
This is a collection that is both personal and that speaks to the condition of our nation. It's an important work and one that I know I'll be revisiting.
Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (Bookshop.org | Libro.fmLibro.fm)
I love re-reading. I love the revelations of subtleties I missed the first time around, the revisiting of moments I loved, the sense of familiarity with characters who feel like old friends (or old enemies!). I re-read a lot each year because of the books I teach, but I also just love to re-read for its own sake.
In January, my husband and I watched the absolutely brilliant adaptation of Station Eleven, and I toyed with the idea that it might be better than its source material (shocking, I know! But it's really good). I idly thought that I should revisit the novel, but I didn't get to it for a while. Then, my IRL book club chose it as our December read, and I fell in love all over again.
My conclusion? The adaptation is absolutely brilliant in its own way, but it takes nothing away from the novel, which is sad and tragic and hopeful. It's about deeply flawed human beings who are nevertheless redeemable, who are worthy of love, and who are willing to love each other. What a gorgeous reading experience. (Interestingly, I finished this one on the same day, December 8, eight years apart!)
Other rewarding re-reading experiences: Alex Haley's Roots, Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King, Tahereh Mafi's A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Natasha Deen's In the Key of Nira Ghani, Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles
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